Galtee Loop

Galtee Mountains

The Galtees are the highest inland mountain range in Ireland, and can be seen from afar as you travel between Cork and Dublin. The range seems to suddenly rise up from the surrounding plains, from almost sea level to just over 900-metres high. The highest mountain is Galtymore (elevation : 919m), which is Ireland's 14th highest, and just manages to make the list of 'furths'. The hike up to the Galtees will reward you with superb views of the plains of County Tipperary and County Limerick, as well as wooded foothills that are flanked by crystal-clear streams, open moorland, and corrie lakes that are nestled underneath the peaks.

The view of the Galtees from Mitchelstown (looking north-east). Temple Hill (elevation : 838m) is on the far left of the image, Galtymore (elevation : 919m) with its summit plateau can be seen as the tallest peak on the right, and the conical shape of Galtybeg (elevation : 799m) on the far right.

Difficulty Rating : 4.0 / 10.0 (Class 5 - Moderate)

*Click here to learn more about the difficulty rating.
**This rating is for the Galtee Loop. The normal back-and-forth route from Black Road to the peak reduces the difficulty rating to 3.0 (Class 3 - Straightforward) due to the reduction in the duration and ascent, and the huge reduction in distance.

Getting There

For the loop, instead of parking your car at the Galtyway Climb carpark along Black Road, it is best to park at the secluded car park of Galtee Castle instead. This way, the loop can be followed in an anti-clockwise direction via Kings Yard, and your car is not too far away by the time you finish the hike and start walking along the roads. Galtee Castle is only a 13-minute drive from Mitchelstown along the R639. Turn left at the junction for Loughananna Road and head north towards the castle. There will be signposts at the side of the road that point the way to both the trail head as well as King's Yard.

Directions to Galtee Castle from Mitchelstown

Wooded Foothills

The sun had come through in the end and had lifted the heavy, low-lying mist that had hugged the base of the mountains early that morning. I left the carpark just after 09:00, with the sun bright and strong, and the birds actively twittering away. The road led north towards King's Yard, which was just over a kilometre away, and ran parallel to the Funshion River. The road also passes large pastures of grazing sheep on the right on its way to King's Yard.

Galtee Castle

A picnic table on the grounds of the Galtee Castle

Just before King's Yard, the route veered to the right, past a yellow barrier, and continued along a dirt road. The road made its way north-east, still running parallel to the Funshion River, and straddling the county border as it did (with county Limerick to the west and county Tipperary to the east). The soft trickling of the river and its occasional cascades over moss-covered boulders were irresistible, and I spent a fair bit of time by the river just appreciating the surroundings.

Funshion River cascades

Funshion River cascades

The sunshine was fairly bright outside of the shade of the mixed forest, and rays would occasionally pierce through and send beams down to the forest floor. As I peered outside to the fields beyond the foliage, I could see the sunlight lighting up the bright yellow furze bushes (Ulex europaeus), making them shine like yellow beacons, which seemed quite apt given that they seem to grow like wild fire. Furze (also known as 'gorse') blooms all year round, and because of this has given rise to a famous saying: "When furze is out of bloom, kissing is out of fashion". The petals are in fact edible and for centuries have been used to make 'gorse flower wine'. Furze can be considered a little too invasive for some farmers, and its growth used to be frequently burned back to also help fertilize the soil. There are now limitations that have been put in place for unlicensed burning.

Fields of ubiquitous furze

The furze flower

The furze flower (Ulex europaeus); Vernation of the scaly male fern (Dryopteris affinis)

About 2.6km in, the road swung to the left and towards a bridge that crossed the river. I instead chose to follow a small, and very overgrown, path that continued straight ahead. This was because I was planning to cut east to join the Galtyway climb route in order to loop around to the peaks from the side, instead of approaching them straight on from the south. Seefin Hill had been left behind on the right, and the path was now climbing up and out of the valley, and away from the river and the Limerick-Tipperary borderline. Just under a kilometre from the bridge, I spotted a small opening in the trees that I decided to follow. The trail turned out to be a dried-up river bed, and climbing up the boulder-filled incline proved to be a refreshing change of terrain.

mixed forests

The light glinting through mixed forests

Next : Galtee Loop (Part 2) - Open Moorland

Ireland Overview

Open Moorland

The dried-up river bed eventually led to the edge of moorland that covered rolling hills as far as my eyes could see. A fence separated the forest from the moorland, and after unsuccessfully searching for a gate, I had to resort to just climbing over it. I decided to head straight for the Galtyway climb route just in case any landowners had an issue with my presence, so I took a compass bearing and made my way north-east.

The land was primarily upland blanket bog, an ecosystem that is relatively rare around the world, and was covered with almost knee-high mountain grass and smatterings of Ling heather (Calluna vulgaris). The hill of Knockeenatoung (elevation : 654m) lay on my right, and sheep were scattered around the peat hag-marred landscape. Peat hags occur when water flows down into peat or when overgrazing from domestic livestock exposes the surface of the peat. Once exposed in this manner, the peat then becomes more prone to further erosion which ends up digging it deeper and deeper, oftentimes resulting in overhanging vegetation. Vegetation can't establish itself on peat hags due to the sheer instability of the peat, and as such is unable to help the landform recover.

Looking back

Looking back towards the forests that surround the Funshion River. The river itself can be seen on the right as it traces its way up the hill to the north-west. The peak of Lyracappul (elevation : 825m) can be seen behind it. Peat hags can be seen on the left on the image.

I joined up with the Galtyway climb route soon after, managing to merge with it just as it swung around to the right. The path continued up the slopes of the hill with brilliant views opening up to the east, until it met with a huge cairn that was located right smack in the middle of the path. Further on, the path led north-west towards the shoulder between the two Galtee peaks, so I decided to bush-bash straight on and directly towards the peak of Galtybeg (elevation : 799m) instead.

Aside from the astounding views, two other things greeted me as I reached the summit: a fierce wind that made me brace myself, and a field of conglomerate rock boulders. The Galtees are primarily made out of red sandstone, and their rounded summits were formed because they used to be peaks that lay above the glaciers, referred to as 'nunataks', millions of years ago. The thawing and freezing cycles eventually caused the summits to wear down to what they are today. There are several other indications of glacial action right next to the peaks, namely the cirques which now exist as corrie lakes, as well as the steep cliffs that drop down for hundreds of metres from Galtymore's peak.

I was forced to bring down my (already struggling) Mavic in a hurry after a pair of ravens (Corvus corax) appeared and immediately began a series of mock attacks and aerial bombardments. Ravens tend to be fiercely territorial, and are known to vigorously defend their territory!

conglomerate rocks

The conglomerate rocks that mark the summit of Galtybeg; Looking west towards the summit of Galtymore

Glen of Aherlow

Looking north from Galtybeg towards the luscious Glen of Aherlow

After packing away my drone, I began to walk westward towards Galtymore. The badly-eroded path dropped down the slopes to the shoulder and past severe cases of peat hag. I had to take care at certain sections as the ground would suddenly become extremely boggy. Just ahead, cliffs could be seen plunging hundreds of metres down and into the lake of Lough Dineen down below. Before I knew it, I found myself climbing back up the slopes once again, walking along the channels, or 'groughs', that had been left by the peat hags. I went over to the side and peered down carefully at the lake down below me. The sight of the huge drop quickly sobered me up, and I was met with the realization that I was completely alone up here.

summit of Galtymore

The summit of Galtymore (elevation : 919m) from Galtybeg

The county border follows the trail up to the peak of Galtymore (elevation : 919m), which means that you are on the highest point of two counties at the same time (which, in hindsight, is not all too uncommon especially for peaks in Malaysia). The summit itself was very wide, and quite unlike its subsidiary peak, Galtybeg. Galtymore's summit was, in essence, a plateau (named Dawson's Table after its historical landowners) that was separated by two cairns--the eastern one marking the true summit of Galtymore. Once again, the winds here were incredible, and the ravens had returned and were looking for that noisy, buzzing, invasive species that they had managed to frighten away earlier. I then made my way down the other side of the mountain after having a quick look at the celtic cross that lay on the edge of the summit.

back towards Galtybeg

Looking east back towards Galtybeg

Next : Galtee Loop (Part 3) - The Stone Wall

The Stone Wall

The trail dropped down to the shoulder between Galtymore and Slievecushnabinnia, and continued to follow the county borderline. This was where the stone wall began. The wall was strangely incongruous way up here in the mountains, and the sheer length of it (it stretches on for several kilometres!) made me wonder how many people were involved building it, as well as why it was ever built in the first place. Nevertheless, I figured that it would come in handy both as a shelter of sorts to escape the biting wind, as well as a guide that one could follow for navigation--a 'handrail' if you will.

A summit cairn

A summit cairn

The wall swung towards the indiscernible peak of Slievecushnabinnia (elevation : 775m) and passed the large lake of Lough Curra, the highest lake in the Galtees. Shortly after, the wall turned westwards and past the peak cairn at the 8.5km mark. It then departed from the county borderline, as the latter suddenly swung northwards instead. I was now walking in County Limerick, and past large numbers of sheep (Ovis aries) as they dotted the slopes in front of me. I ended up walking past the summit of Carrignabinnia (elevation : 823m) without realising it, as the summit was not discernible and the marker lay on the other side of the wall and out of sight. The peak of Lyracappul (elevation : 825m), which means 'confluence of the horse', lay shortly after that.

The stone wall

The stone wall

The range seemed to taper off after Lyracappul, so I turned south and made my way down the slopes. Instead of following the Knockaterriff ridge, which was just a piece of high ground on the ridge that led south to the summit of Knockaterriff (elevation : 692m), I dropped down into the valley, before joining the river that flowed towards the parish of Templemichael.

The initial plan had been to walk a distance of one kilometre on the main road before turning left into the small Carrigeen roads and the Attrychraan Loop. The loop would then ultimately end up at the Galtee Castle. Unfortunately, I was unable to find the actual turnoff (that was actually located at 52.327614, -8.198676) as they all looked like they were on private property. I instead decided to just walk 5 kilometres along the never-ending roads that I knew would get me back to the castle carpark.

"Saol fada chugat!"

Cascades surrounded by furze

Cascades surrounded by furze (Ulex europaeus)

Route Playback

Suunto Movescount Stats


Download file: Galtee Loop.gpx

Peaks of Ireland & the United Kingdom